Tuesday, 7 June 2016

‘What does my cat’s miaow mean?’ and other feline behaviour FAQs

In our recent Q&A on our national Facebook page, Cats Protection’s Behaviour Manager Nicky Trevorrow answered our supporters’ live questions. Here are some of the queries that came up:

Question: One of my cats makes a strange miaow when we fuss her. We can't tell if it's a happy or warning miaow. She doesn't lash out or run away so we are taking it as a happy noise... how do we tell for sure?

She is a rescue cat, quite nervous and has some odd ways, but we love her.

Answer: It's hard to tell without hearing it myself and also vocalisations in pet cats is a learned behaviour as they learn to use various calls to interact with people. Try talking to the rescue centre that she came from in case she made this particular noise in their care, or if she was given up by a previous owner (if the rescue centre has that information from them). Another thing to look at is her facial expression and body language. Does she have normal sized pupils (as opposed to dilated) and relaxed ears facing forwards (as opposed to turned out to the side or back) to show she's relaxed? These can be good indicators of how she's feeling. Take your cat to the vets and take a video of the vocalisation to show your vet if you're concerned. All the best.

Why do cats miaow?
Pet cats learn to use various miaows to interact with people
Question: Sometimes when my cat is playing, he’ll lick me and then suddenly nip. Is this just a way of getting attention?

Answer: It's worth mentioning to your vet just in case it is a medical problem. If it's behavioural, he could be getting a bit over-excited with attention, so try playing games with long fishing rod toys so your hands are safely out of reach, ensuring that your cat can catch and 'kill' the toy, and then following it up with some more gentle play to calm the session down near the end. Always store the fishing rod toys out of your cat's reach after play so it's not a hazard. All the best.

Question: Any advice on how to prevent my cat urinating indoors in the wrong place? She does have a cat flap and a litter tray! It’s only started since a recent bout of cystitis.

Answer: Sorry to hear that your cat is inappropriately urinating in the house. It's very common if they have cystitis. Cats form different associations to things than people sometimes. So with cystitis, it hurts where they went to toilet so they try another location to see if that place doesn't hurt them. When they are in pain each place they toilet, they get this classic pattern of toileting all around the house. Sadly we can't tell them it's their bladder not the litter tray that hurts!

Hopefully you've been to the vets to have a urine sample tested and have followed any medical advice. Cystitis can have different underlying causes so discuss this with your vet. Often stress can play a role, so look at your house from your cat's perspective and do a 'stress audit' to see if there's anything potentially off-putting to your cat; for example do you have glass patio doors or a cat flap that is overlooked by another cat in the neighbourhood which can be scary for most cats? Ensure your cat has plenty of resources (like hiding places, beds, food bowls, water bowls, litter trays). For specific behavioural advice to help your cat and look at the underlying behavioural causes (of which there can be many), ask your vet for a referral to a qualified behaviourist such as a member of the Association of Pet Behaviour Counsellors (www.apbc.org.uk). Also check out our behaviour focus blog post on litter trays. All the best.


Veterinary note: Please note that we are unable to give specific advice on your cat's health or any change in behaviour observed. For medical problems, consult your vet who will have access to your cat's medical history and will be able to examine them.


Would you like to ask one of Cats Protection's feline experts a question about your cat? Don't miss the next live Facebook Q&A sessions. A veterinary expert will be taking questions on 9 June; and Nicky returns to host a behaviour Q&A on 7 July. All Q&As are held on Cats Protection's national Facebook page from 2-3pm. See you there!

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